Economic Developers Love To Network, But Are They Really Good At It?

We are all guilty of huddling in the same groups, talking to the same people at meetings and conferences. It is nice to catch up with old friends, but meeting new people opens new doors of opportunity. A few tips for your next conference or meeting:

Ice breakers do just that, break the ice. Ever notice how talkative people are at the end of the meeting as opposed to the beginning? If we are comfortable, we are much more likely to join the conversation. Some use ice breakers at meetings where people do not know each other well, but try an ice breaker to help people get to know each other better. This example works with a group of 10 – 30. Ask everyone to write on a card something about themselves that most people do not know. The cards are shuffled and the group tries to match the statement to the person. You might find a former hair model or sky diving champ in the group.

We led a rock-paper-scissors tournament at the 2016 NCEDA annual meeting. This ice breaker works for large groups, even 300+ people. The one-round elimination format quickly gets the room divided with one-half cheering for one competitor and the other half cheering for their opponent. It has a good message – when you lose you become a cheerleader for the person to whom you lost. It is also good for networking since you must learn the name of the victor to cheer them on.

Network like a croissant, not a doughnut is something I learned from Jason Vaughn with SynTerra in Greenville. At networking breaks at conferences or meetings, we often get in a small circle of three to four people. The circle does not invite anyone to join our conversation. In fact, it puts up a barrier to entry. Instead of a circle, form a crescent or croissant shape, leaving an area open for others to join. It is much more welcoming.

If you are organizing a meeting, add some structured networking games/exercises to the agenda. Structured networking makes sure that everyone gets involved. Challenge attendees to meet three new people at the break then drop their card in a bowl for a prize drawing. Have assigned seats for part of the program to mix up people from different parts of the state, areas of expertise, etc. Margie Bukowski with Weaver Cooke came up with a good idea – make sure you learn everyone’s name and organization at your table and can recite them. Another game is create a check-off card that has people record when they meet a conference sponsor, new member, board member, past president, YP, etc. and drop the card in a bowl for a prize drawing.

As a meeting attendee, make sure to do your homework in advance. Review the attendee list. Make a target list of people you want to get to know. Look them up on LinkedIn to be able to find them in the crowd. Ask colleagues in common to introduce you. Be strategic so that you can capitalize on the time you invested in participating in the meeting.

To cement new relationships, follow up! Write on the back of their card a note that reminds you what to follow up on. Don’t forget to add new people you meet to your database. Send items of interest, make introductions, or just write a quick note saying you are glad you could connect. People will remember you, and you may start a valuable conversation.

Being mindful with networking will open new doors for business and new professional friendships. You never know from which door opportunity will knock.

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Creative Economic Development Consulting

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